Plastic Legacies

There is virtually nowhere on Earth today that remains untouched by plastic and ecosystems are evolving to adapt to this new context. While plastics have revolutionized our modern world, new and often unforeseen effects of plastic and its production are continually being discovered. Plastics are entangled in multiple ecological and social crises, from the plasticization of the oceans to the embeddedness of plastics in political hierarchies.

The complexities surrounding the global plastic crisis require an interdisciplinary approach and the materialities of plastic demand new temporalities of thought and action. Plastic Legacies brings together scholars from the fields of marine biology, psychology, anthropology, environmental studies, Indigenous studies, and media studies to investigate and address the urgent socio-ecological challenges brought about by plastics. Contributors consider the unpredictable nature of plastics and weigh actionable solutions and mitigation processes against the ever-changing situation. Moving beyond policy changes, this volume offers a critique of neoliberal approaches to tackling the plastics crisis and explores how politics and communicative action are key to implementing social, cultural, and economic change.

Editors: Trisia Farrelly, Sy Taffel, Ian Shaw

Contributors: Sasha Adkins, Sven Bergmann, Stephanie Borrelle, Tridibesh Dey, Eva Giraud, Christina Gerhardt, John Holland, Deidre McKay, Laura McLauchlan, Mike Michael, Imogen Napper, Tina Ngata, Sabine Pahl, Padmapani L. Perez, Jennifer Provencher, Elyse Stanes, Johanne Tarpgaard, Richard Thompson, and Lei Xiaoyu.

In this Open Access Government research report, learn how the COVID-19 pandemic worsened the plastic pollution crisis. Namely, it did this because people were driven to purchase single-use plastics they perceived as helping them to avoid cross-contamination, recycling initiatives became mismanaged or were shut down, lockdowns drove people to purchase takeaway food, and disposable plastic personal protective equipment (PPE) has been widely worn by people over the past several years.

Scientists share results of research measuring microplastic pollution from mechanical recycling facilities. They found that microplastic pollution escaped from recycling facilities with and without wastewater treatment. Microplastic particles are a toxic and serious source of plastic pollution that contaminates air, waters, soils, the atmosphere, and the ocean.

Mechanical recycling is not a solution to plastic pollution, as the industry has only managed to incorporate 9% of all plastic ever made globally into new plastic products (usually adding fresh plastic and petrochemicals), as plastic production has increased. Most plastic collected as recycling is actually incinerated, tipped in a landfill, or shipped overseas. Because so-called “advanced recycling” typically requires the same sorting, washing, and shredding processes as mechanical recycling, this study could also have relevance in evaluating the risks of the “advanced recycling” industry.

Plastic-free activist Beth Terry shares her journey learning to live a plastic-free life in Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too. The book is filled with personal anecdotes, environmental stats, individual solutions and tips on how to limit your plastic footprint. Terry includes handy checklists and tables for easy reference, ways to get involved in larger community actions, and profiles of individuals—Plastic-Free Heroes—who have gone beyond personal solutions to create change on a larger scale.

In her eye-opening and engaging book, Plastic: A Toxic Love Story, journalist Susan Freinkel treks through history, science, and the global economy to assess the real impact of plastic in our lives, describing the crisis point we’ve reached. She tells her story through eight familiar plastic objects: the comb, chair, Frisbee, IV bag, disposable lighter, grocery bag, soda bottle, and credit card. Each one illuminates a different facet of our synthetic world, and together they give us a new way of thinking about a substance that has become the defining medium — and metaphor — of our age.

In Garbology, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Humes investigates the trail of 102 tons of trash—what’s in it; how much we pay for it; how we manage to create so much of it; and how some families, communities, and even nations are finding a way back from waste to discover a new kind of prosperity. Along the way, he introduces a collection of garbage denizens unlike anyone you’ve ever met: the trash-tracking detectives of MIT, the bulldozer-driving sanitation workers building Los Angeles’ immense Garbage Mountain landfill, the artists in residence at San Francisco’s dump, and the family whose annual trash output fills not a dumpster or a trash can, but a single mason jar.